By John Egan
It takes a green thumb to excel at yard work and gardening. Unfortunately, those activities can actually lead to you losing your green thumb — or, in rare instances, your life.
Over the past 10 years, emergency rooms from California to the Carolinas reported nearly 3.2 million lawn and garden injuries, or more than 26,000 injuries per month, according to a LawnStarter study.
Our analysis of federal data indicates that you face lower odds of being injured by lawn mowers than by other kinds of lawn and garden equipment. Gear such as garden hoses, lawn edgers, leaf blowers, pruning shears, wheelbarrows and chainsaws cause 73 percent of injuries (2,325,857).
The remaining injuries (855,850, or about 27%) were attributed to lawn mowers.
However, a higher percentage of injuries connected to lawn mowers required hospitalization than injuries tied to all other types of lawn and garden equipment, according to our study.
Yard Work Injuries by the Numbers
According to our analysis of data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, nearly three-fourths of the lawn and garden injuries from 2010 to 2019 were caused by lawn and garden equipment excluding lawn mowers.
Of the injuries connected to lawn mowers, 95,193 (11.1%) required hospitalization, compared with 169,125 (7.3%) for all other types of lawn and garden equipment.
A breakdown of deaths associated with lawn mowers versus other kinds of lawn and garden gear wasn’t available.
How to Stay Safe Working in the Yard
Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, offers this advice for staying safe when using power gear in the yard or garden: “Before you use a mower, trimmer, blower, power washer, chainsaw, pruner, portable generator or other piece of outdoor power equipment … it’s important to refresh yourself on handling and safety procedures.”
Furthermore, “you should take the time to do basic maintenance to ensure your equipment operates safely for the season and is ready to get the job done,” Kiser adds.
The High Cost of Lawn Mower Injuries
A study released in 2018 by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that lawn mower injuries, most of which require surgery, cost an average of $37,000 per patient. The study examined lawn-mower-related ER visits from 2006 to 2013.
“Despite consumer education programs and warning labels, lawn mower injuries in the United States remain a serious public health concern,” said Dr. Deborah Schwengel, assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s senior author.
875 ER Visits Per Day from Yard Work Injuries
LawnStarter’s data analysis shows that in the past decade, U.S. emergency rooms reported an estimated 3,195,333 injuries tied to lawn and gardening equipment. That amounts to an average of 319,533 per year or a little over 875 per day. Injuries include amputations, burns, nerve damage, broken bones, cuts and bruises.
While there’s no way to know for sure, the recent rise in DIY lawn and garden work prompted by the coronavirus pandemic could lead to more injuries in 2020 than in recent years.
Of the nearly 3.2 million injuries in the past decade, 265,704 (8.3%) required hospital stays and 5,964 (0.19%) resulted in death, our 10-year analysis indicates. On an annual basis, that’s equivalent to about 26,679 hospital stays and about 596 deaths.
At 40, Your Yard Equipment Injury Risk Rises
Another finding from the hospital data: You’re at the greatest risk of lawn and garden injuries — everything from burns to broken bones — if you’re 40 or older, and you’re at the greatest risk of death if you’re in your 60s or 70s.
Our study shows that nearly half (over 48%) of the injuries happened among people 40 to 69 years old. What follows is the breakdown. (Due to rounding, individual percentages don’t add up to 100%.)
- 40 – 49 years old: 15.8%
- 50 – 59 years old: 17.8%
- 60 – 69 years old: 14.5%
By contrast, three-fourths (75.3%) of the hospital stays during the 10-year period fell into the 50-59 through 80-and-over age groups, with the 60-69 and 70-79 groups accounting for more than 40% of the hospitalizations.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 50 – 59 years old: 18.2%
- 60 – 69 years old: 20.9%
- 70 – 79 years old: 19.5%
- 80 and over: 16.7%
A complete breakdown of deaths by age group wasn’t available. However, our 10-year analysis does indicate an estimated 2,156 deaths among people 60 to 69 and 1,255 among people 70 to 79.
This means that from 2010 to 2019, people 60 to 79 represented about 57% of all deaths stemming from lawn and garden injuries.
Among the estimated 5,964 deaths, people were declared dead on arrival, died in the ER or died during a hospital stay.
LawnStarter pulled the data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks ER visits for injuries associated with consumer products. We examined data collected from 2010 through 2019 in seven lawn and garden categories:
- Lawn mowers, including walk-behind power mowers, riding mowers and manual mowers
- Lawn and garden equipment, including garden hoses, wheelbarrows and seed spreaders
- Power lawn equipment, such as tillers, garden tractors and leaf blowers
- Non-power tools, such as rakes, shovels and spades.
- Small power tools, such as lawn trimmer and lawn edgers
- Hatchets and axes
How to Avoid Lawn and Garden Injuries
1. Wear proper protective gear
Items you should put on before doing yard or garden work include safety goggles, gloves, a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and closed-toe shoes. Don’t mow your lawn in flip-flops or barefoot, obviously.
2. Read the rules
Go over the operator’s manuals for lawn and garden tools and equipment that you’re using.
3. Take breaks
Working in the lawn or garden when you’re worn out can lead to mental mistakes that cause injuries, so it’s important to take time out to rest and hydrate.
“There’s no need to strain yourself working out in the yard. Doing so will not only court physical injuries, like knee, wrist or back pain, but also result in mental strain and fatigue as well,” the Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania says.
“Plus, you’re far less likely to do quality work in your yard if rushed or stressed for time or generally feeling poorly,” the institute says.
The University of Vermont Health Network stresses the importance of staying sober while working in the yard or garden.
“It may be tempting to cool down from the yard work with a cold beer, but staying hydrated and clear-headed is important while working with [lawn and] garden tools,” the health network advises.
“Drink plenty of water when working outside and save the beer for after all of your work is done for the day.”
4. Check your surroundings
Before you rev up any power equipment, remove objects such as sticks, glass, metal, wire and rocks from the area where you’re working to avoid causing injuries or damaging equipment.
5. Watch the kids
Don’t let a child hop on or operate a garden tractor or riding mower. Also, make sure kids are indoors when outdoor power equipment is in use.
A child should be at least 12 years old before being allowed to operate a walk-behind mower and 16 years old before being permitted to drive a riding mower.
6. Let someone else do your yard work
This last tip isn’t from any health care organization or government agency. It’s from us here at LawnStarter.
If you’re older and at higher risk of injury, ask your son or daughter (or grandson or granddaughter) to mow your lawn.
At any age, if you don’t want to run the risk of injury, hire someone else to mow your yard, clean your gutters and prune your trees. Ask a loved one, a family friend or a neighbor to help out in the yard. Or hire a lawn care service.